You’d never have guessed he’d make it this far, but ‘grizzled’ bluesman Seasick Steve has made it to his 10th album. When he first made a dent in the public consciousness, way back in the heady days of 2006, Steve Wold was just a man with a loveable schtick, a dubious back story (part Moondog, part Woody Guthrie, part Joe Dirt) – and a brilliant ear for a hook. Since then, he’s worked with Nick Cave, John Paul Jones, Jack White and KT Tunstall. Most surprising of all is that he’s sold a million albums in the UK alone – something not many blues artists can say they’ve done.
To have got this far shows there’s still an audience for what he does. He’s now six albums past his peak – his only genuinely brilliant record is the muscular, heavy-hitting 2011 set You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks – and you can tell, but then again, who’s counting? To have heard one Seasick Steve album is to have heard them all, and if you’ve liked one before, you’ll like this one too.
The album opens with the title track, Love & Peace, which is on the lighter, more streamlined side of the blues spectrum (clearly geared towards sports montages or the Radio 6 Music C List) – but this is soon balanced out by grittier, more authentic takes on his standard moonshine blues. The haunting Church Of Me is beautiful, and surprisingly gentle, while the hip-shakin’, rootin’ tootin’ Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Boogie is practically crying out for a Jools Holland boogie woogie feature. The fact that it sounds exactly like Chris Isaak‘s Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing doesn’t help it.
Other highlights are the cosmic Americana of Travelling Man, the tender folk of Mercy and the raunchy swagger of My Woman. But all these tracks do is highlight what’s missing: new players. Perhaps his management might suggest that he reach out to some new guest stars on the next album? Maybe get a few folks in to jam and see what happens? How about Robert Plant, Jimmy Page or Iggy Pop? Or what about John Mayer and his Grateful Dead bandmates, or Josh Homme, or Billy Gibbons, a diversionary loop to the desert blues of Tinariwen? Leon Bridges, Khruangbin, Curtis Harding, Jason Isbell, Kevin Morby, Waxahatchee, Kip Moore, Lucinda Williams… Or even Diplo, now he’s doing country? Somebody somewhere could have added a little flavour to this album, in the same way John Paul Jones did for You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, but the chance was missed.
It’s easy to be cynical about Seasick Steve – but it’s much, much easier to enjoy the albums he puts out. They ask nothing, and offer only good times, authenticity be damned. His music is most easily comparable to the kind of ‘distressed’ band t-shirts you can buy at HMV: Steve offers a simple, risk-free avenue to access a very deep, very meaningful cultural history that is seemingly inaccessible to newcomers at first glance. Put simply, you’d have be pretty miserable to think it wasn’t harmless fun, and if it turns one person on to the real thing, then it’s definitely worth it.